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Wednesday, 12 January 2011


Ctein is on the mark. Here's the list of cameras I own (from http://basepath.com/Photography/ -- my virtual museum) ordered by price in 2009 dollars, according to the Consumer Price Index.

Order is not exact as lenses vary (e.g., f1.4 vs f2). Also, I mostly based the original price on list price, as many of these cameras were not sold by mail-order dealers.

$4222: Zeiss Ikon Contax S - 1949 (with f2 lens)
$3982: Leica IIIc - 1946 (with f2 lens)
$3733: Leicaflex - 1964 (with f2 lens)
$3560: Leica M3 - 1954 (with f2 lens)
$3337: Zeiss Ikon Contax IIa - 1950 (with f2 lens)
$3257: Zeiss Ikon Contarex - 1958 (with f2 lens)
$2875: Nikon S - 1950 (with f1.4 lens)
$2826: Ihagee Exakta Varex VX - 1951 (with f2 lens)
$2583: Topcon RE Super - 1963 (with f1.8 lens)
$2458: Canon F-1 - 1971 (with f1.8 lens (updated F-1))
$2426: Nikon F - 1959 (with f2 lens)
$2362: Kodak Medalist II - 1946
$2342: Asahi Pentax ME-F - 1981 (with 35mm-70mm f2.8 zoom)
$2312: Ihagee Kiné Exakta - 1936 (with f3.5 Tessar lens)
$2259: Olympus OM-2 - 1975 (with f1.8 lens)
$2208: Canon Canonflex - 1959 (with f1.8 lens)
$2037: Asahi Pentax Spotmatic - 1964 (with f1.4 lens)
$1983: Konica Auto-Reflex - 1965 (with f1.4 lens)
$1918: Canon Pellix QL - 1966 (with f1.8 lens)
$1887: Minolta SR-7 - 1962 (with f1.4 lens)
$1836: Nikon Nikkormat FT - 1965 (with f2 lens)
$1639: Kodak Retina Reflex - 1957
$1610: Konica FP - 1963 (with f1.4 lens)
$1580: Canon FT QL - 1966 (with f1.8 lens)
$1537: Nikon Nikkorex Zoom 35 - 1963
$1487: Asahi Pentax Original - 1957 (with f2.2 lens)
$1460: Canon AE-1 - 1976 (with f1.8 lens)
$1454: Asahi Pentax ME - 1976 (with f1.7 lens)
$1415: Nikon Nikkorex F - 1962 (with f2 lens)
$1346: Zeiss Ikon Contaflex - 1953 (with f2.8 lens)
$1281: Olympus OM-1 - 1972 (with f1.8 lens)
$1227: Minolta SR-1 - 1961 (with f2 lens)
$1225: Kodak Instamatic Reflex - 1968 (with f2.8 lens)
$1205: Miranda DR - 1962 (with f1.9 lens)
$1179: Pentacon Praktica LLC - 1969 (with f1.8 lens)
$1170: Rollei 35 - 1966 (with f3.5 lens)
$1088: Topcon Auto 100 - 1964 (with f2 lens)
$1033: Olympus Pen F - 1963 (with f1.8 lens)
$1011: Minolta Maxxum 7000 - 1985 (with f1.7 lens)
$886: Kodak Retina - 1937
$840: Nikon Nikkorex 35-2 - 1962 (with f2.5 lens)
$821: Polaroid SX-70 Sonar One Step - 1978
$803: Ihagee Exa - 1951 (with f2.9 lens)
$798: Polaroid Model 95 - 1948
$759: Asahi Asahiflex IIb/Tower 23 - 1954 (with f3.5 lens)
$734: Kodak 35 RF - 1940
$718: Nikon EM - 1979 (with f1.8 lens)
$692: Olympus OM-10 - 1979 (with f1.8 lens)
$608: Konica C35 AF - 1977 (with f2.8 lens)
$557: Taron Marquis - 1962 (with f1.8 lens)
$553: Canon Dial 35 - 1963
$536: Konica (I) - 1948 (with f3.5 lens)
$459: Argus C3 - 1939 (with f3.5 lens)
$356: Ansco No. 4 Model C - 1905
$213: Olympus Pen - 1959 (with f3.5 lens)
$193: Argus A - 1936
$126: Ansco Anscoflex - 1954
$112: Kodak Instamatic 100 - 1963
$92: Kodak Vest Pocket Model B - 1925

So my old Zenith B with the 58mm f/2, featuring a preset lens*, speeds from 500th to 30th second and no metering whatsoever would have been the modern equivalant of $320.

*You set the stop on the aperture ring, then just before you take the picture, close the aperture to that stop yourself with another ring. Everything was manual. You kids today don't know you're born. Why, in my day (cont page 195)

A very wide list, which is your favorite if you had to keep one?

It is unfortunate that salaries have not kept up with the CPI...but that hasn't stopped me from indulging in my photographic needs/wants.

Am I missing something? It looks like if the digicam market shrivels up and if that somehow leads us back into a 1970's style market where Serious Camera business is ~1% of overall camera market then we'd end up with a pricing structure similar to what we're paying today!

Pentax 6x7 for $10,000 versus Pentax 645D at $9,995.95.
Canon AE-1 w/lens for $1,460 versus - well I don't know. Do you compare the AE-1 to a Rebel T2i (w/ lens ~$1000) or 7D (w/ lens ~$1850)? Perhaps the AE-1 compares to the Rebel and the F-1 compares to the 7D?

I guess my premise isn't matching up very well. The list of 70's cameras has 3 leicas in the $3500-$4000 range (w/ lens), but the M9 is closer to $7000 today (sans lens).

I give up - overall it looks like the 70's market translated into 2009 dollars looks comparable if not slightly cheaper than the Serious Camera market today. That's pretty interesting to me.

One small niggling exception to these prices: I was a married draftee, in the Army, living on Army pay -- I had no outside money -- in 1968, and bought a Pentax Spotmatic with three lenses (35, 50 and 135.) According to these numbers, that would have cost thousands of dollars in current dollars. How could I afford that? Easy. I went to the PX, where the cameras were sold at Japanese wholesale prices, with no tax.

They were so cheap that half the GIs I knew did the same thing -- hundreds of thousands of Pentax and Nikon cameras, with "sets" of lenses, came flooding home from Vietnam and Korea, and anywhere there was a PX (including the states and Germany.) Many of them were sold in the states for a quick profit.

Whatever their list price in the states, they were common as dirt, and startlingly cheap...I can't remember what I paid for mine, but I would say that it was a few hundred dollars in 2009 dollars, not a few thousand.


WHAT! an aperture ring... we dreamt of an aperture ring... n my day we had to get up before we went to bed, go down to..........(cont'd page 501)

I remember looking at a SL66 kit in 1970 and thinking that it was about twice as expensive as the base price for a Porsche 911 $6,430 - $8,675


"The much-revered Alpa 9D would set you back around $2,500" That sounds like the Robert Olden buy out the entire stock at firesale prices for cash and dump it price.

I've always pondered how inflation could be used to translate prices from yesteryear to today, and wondered if that would shake the idea that the boomer generation had more disposable income than myself (Admittedly a Gen Y). I can't imagine purchasing all the things my father did in his 20's and 30's without taking out large loans or extensive financing: A new Datsun 240Z, powerboat & waterskis, etc. Yet he seemed to pay them off quickly, leading me to think the wage/expense gap was closer in the past. Easy credit seems to have create a larger gap that sustains its existence through 'necessity', though consumer culture and instant gratification are a whole other can of worms.

At the same time, my 2nd hand Mamiya 645 AFD, 55 & 150mm lenses and a 120 film back seems dirt cheap at $1200 in 'today's' money, given the equivalent prices quoted by Ctein for medium format setups.

Economies of scale, trickle-down tech and for me, a favourable buyers market indeed.

My current-manufacture 8mm fisheye (Pelang) has the standard preset aperture controls; it's not a completely dead idea.

My only objection to the logic behind this is that cameras have gradually morphed over time from high-precision optical instruments to consumer electronics goods. Inside a D3x or Eos-1D VI one no longer finds multiple precision-ground gears, bearings and axles all painstakingly assembled by hand. Instead it's mass-produced circuit boards and injection molded plastics inside that metal shell.

Consequently, to some extent cameras today have more in common with scientific calculators and computers: items whose cost has plummeted with advances in electronics manufacturing efficiencies and standardization of components. Likewise for optics, where computer aided design and modeling has greatly reduced the costly trial and error development necessary to bring a new lens to market.

So I don't think cameras should be completely given a pass when it comes to that linear consumer price thing.

I'm getting worried if you have to add a note about Ctein kidding.

Hasselblad 500 C/M kit, January 1987, $1650 with $100 rebate from Victor. January 2010 price - $3215

Serious Photographers always assume that the public is riding on the coattails of “real photographers” and that somehow serious photography should dictate the evolution of product. Aside from Leica, mass market consumption pays the way in small format (35mm and smaller). The history of small format photography is littered with quality “professional” products that were not sustainable due to lack of broad consumer base: Contax, Alpa, and many more…... With full frame DSLR looking to be the “new medium format”, I am amazed that Phase/Mamiya and Hasselblad are still apparently viable……umm…maybe they are the “new large format”!?

I hope the Asian market (I am told it is Asia where mirrorless is taking off) keeps spending on mirrorless, thus justifying further R&D and more products. Mirrorless – m3/4, Sony NEX, and others – may be poised to become the “new high-end” for quality consumer/prosumer photography: with APS-C DSLR/SLT, based on recent advancements (7D, K5, D7000), becoming the “new Full Frame”.

Proceeding on with my opinionated narrative…….P&S is the mainstream now and a quality P&S can print exceptionally well now (http://www.luminous-landscape.com/reviews/kidding.shtml). Sooner than later the ubiquitous hand-held device of choice – Cell, Tablet, whatever – will be the device that documents our daily lives; causing a reduction in many markets, not just specifically P&S. Both Sony and Panasonic are gearing up to promote their brands and insert their technology – Lumix and Alpha/Sony – in hand held devices.

Just my opinionated 2Cents :-)

"We have all reaped the benefits of that in a grand and glorious thirty-year ride. We've gotten accustomed to getting rather good cameras dirt cheap."
WE, being the professionals who slowly but surely have seen said "benefits" steadily dwindle as more and more potential customers also had access to "getting rather good cameras dirt cheap", especially in the last 5 years where the digital "convenience" has caused extensive damage.

The problem with such comparisons is that the roles of cameras, even serious cameras, have changed drastically in the intervening time.

If you bought a Nikon FTn in 1970 ($2500 in today's dollars), you could expect to keep using it more or less indefinitely, assuming you spent a modest amount on maintenance now and then.

If you buy a D700 today, your $3k camera is basically guaranteed to be a paperweight in less than 10 years time, most likely much less. Most electronic components cannot be easily replaced, and replacement parts go out of production almost as quickly as the models they service.

The dirty little secret for serious amateurs is that digital has been a far more expensive effort than film ever was. Sure, you don't spend money on film and processing. You just spend a lot more on upgrading your camera, computer, storage and software every 3 years.

The Photographic Marketing Association has changed the name of its grand US annual show to Cliq according to http://www.dpreview.com/news/1101/11011107cliq2011.asp .

Looks as if the idea of a marketing association for both snapshooters and serious photographers has withered.

Please remove the footnote. It:

a) is mildly insulting, and

b) kills the joke.


A good serving of reality. I guess I'll stop whining about the $2,000+ that a good full frame DSLR costs today.


My used Leica M2 in 1960 was only $250 as I recall. Not sure it if that included a lens.
My Minolta Autocord 2 1/4 was $99.00 at that time looked for one on E Bay and they are selling for over $350 to $500.

That's actually a pretty good price for a new Leica M and lens.

Interesting post! New cameras are a real bargain today compared to what they were back in the day. I would also note that for folks like me who are also still interested in film photography there are incredible bargains available for these classic film cameras of the past. I can now afford most of the cameras I could only lust after as a teeenager in the 1970s :-)

I bought my first SP camera in 1975. I was 16 years old at the time. I saved for 2 years and had saved around 225.00 as I recall. I had my dad try to buy a Mamiya Sekor 1000 using a CC from a company advertizing in popular photography (Oldens?) and we waited, waited, and waited and never got the camera and ultimately my dad had to try to get credit back to his card. What a friggin ordeal! Not like it is today.
Anyways, I decided to try buying local through something called a "Want AD", a weekly local paper that was circulated in New England. It had everything in it from motorcycles to cameras. Anyways after looking week after week I saw a Nikon FTN (black with the photomic head) advertised for 325.00. I knew I wanted that camera bad and finally talked my dad to pitch in the difference. We drove to Boston, went to this studio and this guy showed us the camera to which I began drooling. I think I impressed my dad and that dude when I went and checked out all the shutter speeds, metering, etc. and gave it a clean bill of health. I then asked if he had any lenses. Now bear in mind in the mid 70's a used Nikkor was minimally 400 bills and no way could I afford that. This guy then pulled out a 135mm Soligor 2.8 and said he would throw it in for total of 375.00.
Sold,even though I really wanted (and needed) a normal or wide angle.
I used that out fit for 10 years (eventually with other lenses).
As it relates to this article, using the CPI index, in todays dollars rigt now, that FTN would cost me $1423.44. Now bear in mind a Nikon FTN was sort of old news. The F2 had been out for some time so it wasn;t even like close to being new. Probably already 10 years old at the time.
The big point of this comment is that now we are AWASH (both digitally and (analog wise)) in cameras. Right now you can buy a SP digital camera for 200-300 bucks (Canon d20, Nikon d70, heck even the great Minolta 7D!).
My point is that if you were to reverse the CPI back to 1970, if we had the choices and prices currently, I could of bought a SP camera back then if that was the situation of camera availability for 50 bucks (not 375.00). 375 WAS a lot of money back then I can tell you.
So we are NOW absolutely in a "Golden Era" of cameras, especially SP cameras. I think because so many SP cameras were bought by people other than SP people. I can tell you not to many people in the 70's bought SP cameras other than SP people. Only serious SP dudes and pros had Nikon FTN's in those days.
As I see it though, part of the problem is that we ARE awash in cameras and not necessarily using the same tool for 10 years at a time.We go from camera to camera like we go through underwear.
Takes a long time for that tool to become a natural and a further extension of you hand (and mind).
I think a camera or any tool is respected and appreciated as to what YOU CAN DO wth it if it is special in your mind's eye and not necessarily if you're lusting after the next johnny come lately.

Very interesting. I bought a used Pentax Spotmatic and a 55 1.7 Takumar in Australia for not much (can't remember the exact price, but I was paid $70 AUD a week in 1984 so it can't have been that expensive).

I'm hoping Ctein is going to somehow work in a 3-axis format / price /image quality chart into the next post. Based on current prices, I strongly suspect that a manual 6x4.5 camera (eg Mamiya 645) is going to be the stellar buy in today's market.

Oh, and +1 to the post above observing that digital costs are greater than film costs.

"A new Datsun 240Z, powerboat & waterskis, etc. Yet he seemed to pay them off quickly, leading me to think the wage/expense gap was closer in the past."

It could also be that he didn't own 3 televisions, 200 channels worth of cable TV, a cell phone and service, computers, MP3 players, etc. Sometimes (maybe not for you) the difference is that you don't think of the things that are "necessities".

"The dirty little secret for serious amateurs is that digital has been a far more expensive effort than film ever was."

For me it's infinitely more expensive, since I spent zero on film shooting. And I wouldn't be shooting if digital wasn't around. At the same time, my computer and storage needs are already necessary for other reasons, so my only photo related expenses are prints, and Photoshop. Not really all that much.

On the flip side, one can get a Like New F100 for $200 or less today- that sold for over a grand 15 years ago...


Right you are. I was a teenager in the 60s, reading each issue of Pop Photo over and over until the next one came. Couldn't afford the really top stuff that I lusted for (like you!), but did swing a Konica FP in 1963.

In the last couple of years (you can calculate my age now), I've essentially bought the whole magazine-full of great cameras, mostly on eBay, and for very cheap prices. Prices for even the best (e.g., Leicaflex) are about the same as the new price, but in 2010 dollars.

As I write this in my office, almost every issue of PopPhoto until about 1980 is on shelves to my left, while the cameras themselves are all around me. Worth waiting for.

The original buyers of all those great 1950 - 1980 cameras are now getting elderly and many of them are unloading their prizes on eBay, since their kids know nothing about what they are.

A great time to buy.


Mark, You've put together a very cool website. Thanks.
This is a another fascinating TOP discussion.

With all due respect, I can't quite replicate the inflation calculations using the 1% assumption. Over all the 41 years since 1970 the inflation in the price of that Pentax 67 would be = 1.01^41 - 1 = 0.5 or 50 percent.

Surely the Pentax 67 camera did not cost $10000/1.5=$6,666 in 1970?

Michael Bernstein, if I were shooting film, I would've spent more than $5000 in the last 12 months (going from B&H's prices, at least). And that's just film, not development and scanning. Digital is cheap.

One byproduct of the digital revolution has been a near mint Hassy 500c with a prism, 50, 250 and a couple of backs for $700.
Want big? Spool up some Velvia 50 and stand back.
At that price if I only shoot a dozen rolls a year it's still OK.
But while we are firing up the time machine a question. What would you have had to pay ten years ago to get the performance of a D7000?
Fun thread, thanks for doing the math.

I still can't afford my 6x9 Texas Leica.

Dear Mani,

You misread that paragraph. The CPI underestimates the amount of inflation. 1%/annum is the mount by which it underestimates inflation, not the total inflation rate. IOW, take the change in CPI between 1970 and now and multiply it by 1.01^40 (~1.5) to get a more realistic inflation factor.

Indeed, as John Camp and others have sagely noted, an average inflation number is a rather weak notion-- it does not necessarily track changes in wages very well. Further, some goods and services go up in price considerably faster than the inflation rate, some much less, and some even deflate. That's true even correcting for value received.

But one needs some number to hang a hat on, so this is it.


Dear Christian,

I picked cameras that were the most similar to today's market and manufacturing situations as I could, to try to make the comparisons meaningful. Oddly, they do tend to have adjusted prices similar to higher-end cameras today. Given the very small sample, and the dubiousness of the comparisons to begin with, I do not know if there is meaning in that or mere coincidence.


Dear Michael,

No, there is no problem in the comparison. It is merely a comparison of price. The problem is that you're trying to read it as a comparison of worth. That fails, as you have found, because that is not what it is.

I'm only trying to arm-wave into existence an estimate of what you might have to pay. Whether you think you're getting proper value for your dollar is entirely in your head. I didn't go, and I ain't going, there.

It is even less about film vs digital, in any way. Please, can't we just leave that oh-so-tired business that alone? It's as boring as Macs vs PCs.

pax / Ctein
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com

If you want to get serious about your historic money conversions this site allows you check the value of historic money against various measures and gives some background about the various methods



I don`t know I don`t see the "cheapening" on the prosumer side.
I bought a Canon EOS 50E with 28-80 kit lens in 1998 and paid for it 750.000 Italian lire which was roughly 375 EUR back then. If I calculate with CPI that would translate in 450 to 520 EUR in today`s money. A new EOS 60D (I think it is it`s today`s equivalent) will cost me cca. 900 EUR with the 18-55 kit.
A Canon F1 (1971 revaluated) with prime 1.8 lens 2.485 USD. A EOS 1Ds now sans lens cca. 6.000 EUR.
A Leica M3 (1954 revaluated) 3.560 USD with lens, an M9 now 5.000 EUR.

The dynamics of these large corporations are totally different than the myriad of smaller manufacturers from 30 years ago. Anyone who thinks that Canikon intend to pour expensive R&D resources into a dwindling market for 'serious amateur' cameras are dreaming. It's just conceivable that niche companies (such as Leica) may continue to carve-out their own sector - at ever greater expense - but there's a generation growing-up for whom iPhones represent not only the cameras they and all their peers use themselves, but also the cameras they've always seen their parents use.

Btw, the Leica ad from 1970 proved to be right.

As other posts have referenced, at least around the edges, it's not what the actual value for something yesterday would have been in todays dollars...it's cost vs. wages vs. product life vs. income made using the item (for pros).

The actual day rate I was getting in 1985 for doing an ad shoot in the mid-west in a medium sized town was 800 bucks a day plus expenses, for doing a food shot, it was 1000 bucks a day plus expenses and stylists. Now I'd be lucky to get 500 bucks a day from the locals, and they won't pay expenses because the "kids" think there should be none with digital. They don't want to pay pre and post production days either, somehow the whole job is supposed to spring from your mind and get organized, props delivered, etc., in a second, and you're post processing and making disc copies for nothing! So your really working an uncompensated extra two days for every day rate day.

As someone stated before, you could have gone into business in the mid 60's, bought a Hasselblad (or a view camera), and with CLA's, you could have expected to use that camera for the full amount of time you were in business until retirement. Not so with digital, every two to three years, it's a boat anchor, and again, the clients go from saying: "we only except 12 megapixels or higher" to saying "now it's 20 megapixel".

The 500 dollar day I can get today, in 1985 money, probably would have been 175 bucks and I wouldn't have been in business.

I had friends graduate from high-school in the early 70's and go into the factories for 12-15 dollars an hour, on the high-end, that's 30K a year, now I have friends that make almost that same amount of money doing the same thing, at most, maybe 5K more! That Pentax 6X7 kit might have been 10K in todays money, but that factory job might have been paying 90K a year in todays money (someone else can look up and do the math, I'm too lazy)!

My Toyota Tercel was 5K in 1985, now the cheapest comparable car from them is 13K, and yet, my income hasn't gone up the same percentage. Ditto for apartments and everything else...it goes on and on...so that 10K Pentax system back then was far more affordable than the Pentax digital today!

...a modern Pentax digital would be one quarter of my yearly income today, Cteins Pentax kit back then would have been one eighth of my yearly income...it's current cost as percentage of current income compared against past cost as percentage of past income that's the key to comparing these prices...

The nice thing about digital that SP en CC are the same camera's these days. Buy a Nikon D2x with 28-80 these days. 1000 dollars and it's yours.


Nice huh, but then again......maybe a D3 would be better still.....endless ratrace these days but good for smart people who like to follow trends not set them. In yesteryears that was quite different. A Nikon F2 held it's value for about 10 years and my Nikon F3 actually gained value (bought it dead cheap during a dollar/yen crunch and laughed my socks off when the yen started to rise again).

Greetings, Ed


There is broad agreement that the Consumer Price Index underestimates real inflation

Are you sure about this? My memory is that people were thinking that CPI was tending to overestimate inflation, because it didn't take sufficient account of changes in consumption patterns and the increased functionality of new products.

I wonder what the numbers would look like if you used straight CPI?

I also think that the "real cost" of cameras in the past would make more sense if it was calculated in relation to data on average hourly income. Otherwise the argument becomes confused by (mis)perceptions about past real income levels. In most developed countries there have been very big increases in average real income over the past 60 years.

To hell with this. I'm gunna start making a pinhole.

"it's current cost as percentage of current income compared against past cost as percentage of past income that's the key to comparing these prices..."

Not sure I quite agree. Because that makes generalizations pointless and comparisons impossible. It's not even strictly true for "you" (or any particular individual) because your income situation can change dramatically in a very short time--you could get a huge bonus, in which case everything would get suddenly cheaper, or you could lose your job, in which case everything would get suddenly more expensive. The only way to "tie" the comparison to such a subjective number usefully would be to take into consideration the average incomes/buying power of all camera buyers.


...a modern Pentax digital would be one quarter of my yearly income today, Cteins Pentax kit back then would have been one eighth of my yearly income...it's current cost as percentage of current income compared against past cost as percentage of past income

it would make most sense to me to compare products from various times to the national average wage at the time.

Leaving aside CPI the central argument here appears to be that consumers will stop buying dedicated cameras, thereby driving up the cost of dedicated cameras. But aren't SLR sales increasing year over year? Could it be that since consumers have ready access to a P&S quality camera in their phone that they will be more inclined to purchase a higher quality camera.

People used to use their phones for random snaps and take P&S cameras for specialized occasions (travel, holidays). Maybe now that the differential in quality between phone cameras and P&S is declining, people will buy SLRs for those special occasions.

No problem. Serious Photography is the art/craft/science of putting a frame around part of reality. That is device-independent.

"Could it be that since consumers have ready access to a P&S quality camera in their phone that they will be more inclined to purchase a higher quality camera."

Good point.


I did this sort of rough calculation with the prices in a Swedish camera magazine from 1972, same ballpark figures.

My dad still has the OM-2 he got in the late 70s, along with 24mm, 50mm, and 100mm lenses. Still uses it, too. Great value for that money!

There is one important thing we are forgetting now. That is the 'survival of the camera'.
The camera's from those 'old days' are still working wel-to-pertfect, however on film, even after 50 years, and doing even better because film is getting better all the time (look at the Tri-X)!
I would like to see a digital one functioning after 50 years, not to hope for doing better, just shooting.
Each 3 years, the 'old' digital one becomes obsolete, as computers do too, and a new model is knocking on our doors (heads).
Digital photography is far more expensive…


...I guess that was the point I was trying to make...still valid to figure it that way, take average per household income for 1975, and take what percentage of that Cteins Pentax in that era cost, take todays average household income vs. the percentage that the 10K cost of his projected Pentax cost in todays dollars, or the 10K the new digital would cost, and I'll bet back then the equipment was a smaller percentage of gross! Just like most peoples living expenses used to be a quarter of gross and now they're closer to a half, and Crabby Umbos Toyota problem.

And Cteins Pentax system would have been one eighth of my poor underpaid beginning studio photographers wage in the mid 70's, and one quarter of my underpaid photo professionals wage today, altho it might not be accurate, I know I'm getting paid below average family income both then and today!

It's interesting to note as well, average family or household income (which is considered more accurate than per capita income), was most likely based on one earner per household back in the 70's, and today it's virtually understood to mean two adults working!

I've always told employers I want a raise based on the average similar models of car go up every year!

"Could it be that since consumers have ready access to a P&S quality camera in their phone that they will be more inclined to purchase a higher quality camera."

That sounds interesting, and I would add that pixel-peeping in search of "more detail" is precisely what most regular consumers do that makes them dissatisfied with their current cameras. Since people can zoom in, they do. And they are ever more likely to do so if they have a "really good" shot of someone/something they care about.

(Large print sizes rarely enter into it, I think.)

Dear John,

Nope, I'm right about inflation.

The argument you're discussing-- scaling for worth, is not only a huge can of worms, but doesn't correlate with what people have to spend.

What it boils down to is that for $200, today, you can buy a hard drive that has 500 times the capacity of a $200 drive from a decade ago. Scaling for worth essentially says that you should then rate today's drive as costing 40 cents, for the purpose of inflation calculation.

If you could buy a few-gig hard drive for 40 cents, that would make sense. You can't.

It's essentially a quality-of-life point of view, which has legitimacy but not utility in this discussion.

pax / Ctein

Dear Folks,

Not to sound callous, truly, but whether or not your income has kept pace with inflation or you can afford a camera is simply not a concern of this analysis.

I'm trying to arm-wave what the SP's camera might cost, absent most of the photographic market.

Whether you can afford such a camera, whether you think you're getting your money's worth, whether you think film is cheaper than digital or vice versa... I don't care.

All I'm doing is presenting a hypothetical analysis that might give us an idea of PRICE.

You can all draw your own conclusions about what that price means to YOU.

You will not all agree on that import, I am pretty sure of that. It's personal and highly variable.

pax / Ctein

You guys need to get out more. Aside from photo-fora (I hang on them all the time myself), [i]no-one[/i] pixel-peeps their images "in search of more detail". They say: "wow I LOVED your images of Thailand on Facebook! That beach looked AAAWESOOOME!"

Dear Folks,

I just figured out what's confusing some.

This column, as the title says, is about what camera prices of the future might be like.

It's not a nostalgia column about what prices were in the past. It is in no way about the import of 1970 prices to any of us. Those are just numbers that let me extrapolate to the future.

If they make you think about what a dollar meant to you then vs now, that's fine. But it's not what I wrote about or what the numbers are for.

pax / Ctein

Dear Gavin,

Thanks, that's a most entertaining website. I've bookmarked it.

It's interesting that except for two nonrelevent indicators (e.g. fraction of GDP), the spread is not all that big-- well with the +/- 25% armwaving I allowed myself.

The real uncertainty in my armwaving is still how much one factors in for the underinflation correction.

But there's a lot of useful data on that site for a geek like me. I've bookmarked it.

pax / Ctein

Interesting to look back and see the (approximate) worth of goods back then. The extent of machining in the cameras of yore was much greater than that of today's cameras. We're experiencing more value (or features) in today's cameras overall. But today's cameras won't be serviceable twenty years hence. You may be able to obtain a replacement shutter, but forget about finding the correct (proprietary) electronic control board.

The next "old-fashioned" item to go from cameras may be the glass prism. Glass prisms take time to make and are more expensive than the plastic prisms. I imagine only the top-level cameras will have glass prisms ten years from now.

The comparison between cars doesn't hold nearly as closely as that of cameras. Most cars are loaded with thousands of dollars worth of options as standard equipment. Not to mention the numerous air bags, anti-pollution devices, etc. Go back enough years and you'll find that the AM radio could be deleted if you ordered a new car!

OT a bit:
According to www.ohiohistorycentral.org, Ohio didn't have a state income tax until 1972. (http://www.ohiohistorycentral.org/entry.php?rec=1630) With fewer factory jobs, more pressure was put upon individuals to make up the shortcoming left by the businesses that moved to (usually) non-union states.

So; the wages have fallen relative to the CPI, most households need two wage earners, and goods must become cheaper in order for us to afford them. Plus, our parents (and grandparents, for those younger) had lived through the Great Depression and didn't feel right about buying something just because they "wanted it". To sell a product to their generation, you had to provide a product that would last a fairly long time. There were probably more "junk" products back then, but you could more easily separate the quality items from the junk by looking at the price tag.

It cost me about $1000 to have my D200 body for 3 years (about $1600 to buy, sold it for about $600). Now, if film cost $5 a roll and processing and proofing cost $10 a roll (and really the prices I mostly paid were closer to $20 total than $15), I come out ahead at 67 rolls of film.

And I shot a LOT more than 67 rolls of film in those three years. I very likely shot more than I would have on film; but got some shots I wouldn't have because I couldn't afford to try that many times (or couldn't tell in the field whether I'd won or not); so trying to figure what a "fair" price comparison is is essentially impossible. But I'm really sure that the fair comparison is a LOT more than 67 rolls of film worth; and so long as that is true, digital was cheaper than film for me.

I'm going to have to keep my D700 a LOT longer, given the lens swaps I had to make (running the total price WAY up). :-)

Not to beat a dead horse (or as one of my bosses used to say: beat a dead horse in the mouth!)...

I was under the impression that Cteins original column was sort of: "If you think 10K is a lot for a Pentax Digital 645, you should know that via the CPI, my 70's Pentax 6X7 would be 10K today anyway." If that was what he was saying, then what I'm saying is: that may be technically correct, but the impact on your purchase decision really has to do with afford-ability based on your income, and the easy way to figure that is against average household income for 1970 vs. 2010.

If Cteins Pentax was 10 percent of average household income in 1970, and 10 percent of todays average household income (which in 2009 was 50K), is 5K. It doesn't matter if CPI tells you that the value would be 10K, it tells you that it's 5K overpriced for the same buying decision (not to mention that you'd most likely have to figure only 65% of todays household income to be more accurate against 1970's single earner household income).

I don't have the figures, so, just saying here...no idea what the truth is...but it's also important to understand that pricing is based on development and manufacturing cost, as well as profit they want to make, vs. ROI over a set period of time, place in the market, etc. etc. So we do not know if Pentax could be selling the 645D at a tidy profit all day and night at 7.5K but wouldn't because they just want to be under, but close to the other competition. Different pricing and marketing philosophies were surely in play back then as well (and I'm sure ROI was figured in years instead of months as it is today!)...

Anyway, if that's not what he was saying: my bad!

Phillipe, why is a three year old digital camera "obsolete"? It's not like it magically stops taking pictures, or even that the pictures it take suddenly turn to crap.

And digital cameras aren't the disposable goods a lot of people seem to think they are--people are still shooting with Canon D30's, D60's, D10's, and so on. Some of those cameras are pushing a decade at this point, and the specs of the cameras are laughable. But they still work.

"why is a three year old digital camera "obsolete"? It's not like it magically stops taking pictures...digital cameras aren't the disposable goods a lot of people seem to think they are--people are still shooting with Canon D30's, D60's, D10's, and so on. Some of those cameras are pushing a decade at this point"

A fair question you raise...I just posted a poll on the blog to see how old most peoples' cameras are. I'd actually be surprised if we can find even one individual still shooting with a 10-year-old digital camera, but maybe he's out there. We'll see.


Dear Tom,

Nope, that is not what I was saying.

pax / Ctein

Dear James,
Perhaps, 'obsolete' might have been a to strong word, but as the industry is bringing out each 18 months a new model as an improvement for the previous one, 3 years are about twice the 'average'.
But, yes, you might be right, we, the customers, should be very alert.
On the other hand, 2 to 3 years of intensive (or professional) use of a camera body made for 100 000 to 150 000 shots is close to the limit.
This is, among other reasons, why I refused to spend all the money on a super, big, elaborated and overly priced (prized?) digital camera body.
The publishers, for whom I do all my shooting, do not care with what brand or model I am shooting, they only want good results once everything is printed and selling well in the bookshops, and till now, they are very pleased.
I went for Pentax and buy each two years the newest model (a K5 is on its way now). The only thing I spend all the money at are the lenses (DA ltd's), that's the 'constant' in my photo bag.
My 'old' K20d, 'good stuff' BTW, is showing some issues lately; the rather 'annoying' noise the mirror is making when the camera is hold vertically and the strange 'blotches' seen on the borders of the highlights in the pictures I recently shot in Morocco (if only I knew how to post a picture over here) are telling that this one is 'tired'.
So, actually, I plan a replacement of the body each 2 years, so I have the up to date stuff and a camera that I can trust holding the stress for a few years.
On the other hand, my good 30 years old Hasselblad (500C/M) is still doing very super and is used, along with my Linhof Cardan GT, for the more and extreme demanding shooting.
Yes, a double production line, LightRoom and DarkRoom…

Philippe, why is 2 or 3 years the limit for "hard use" of cameras? Surely the limit for hard use is reached when the camera can no longer be repaired or operated economically.

The shot count you give as the camera body life sounds more like the shutter life span as quoted by the manufacturer. Film cameras (at least modern ones) have expected shutter-lives too, and shutter replacement is a routine repair and a trivial expense.

It just occured to me to ask the question in reverse: in 1970, what camera cost the equivalent of a Phase One 645 and a P65+ today? I can't think of anything, but I wasn't in that market then.

Dear Rob,

Hmmm, you'd be looking for something circa $5,000 or better list price back in 1970. I don't know gear in that range. What did an absolute top-of-the line 8x10 or 11x14 view camera run back then?

That'd be the most likely ultra-expensive camera, and it'd be a good match in terms of image quality, too.

Mike? Oren? Carl?

Just realized that my 35mm 1970 converted prices are too low. I used best-reputable-street price, instead of manufacturer's list. Since discounts on Serious Digital Cameras are somewhere between small and nonexistent today, 1970 list prices would have been a better place to start.

A minor point, but it means that my estimates of future camera prices are likely to be erring on the low side rather than the high.

Assuming one believes any of this nonsense, that is...

pax / credulous Ctein

I actually think that people going over more to cellphone cams from compacts might not be that bad. The reason is the "better camera for better occasions" -theory that was proposed. Nowadays, I see 14 year olds walking around town with DSLRs around their necks; that didn't happen much 10 years ago; photography as a hobby is attracting more people and more people who don't have photography as a hobby realize the quality advantages of using a DSLR over a small compact.

A lot of the development is due to digital; digital gives instant feedback and it's easy to get the photos on the computer, the quality difference between a DSLR and a compact is larger than it used to be with an SLR and compact and people feel they get their money's worth with digital, as there are no film fees and the camera is always ready, no buying film.

I could also note that in this comparison, looking at the USA alone is a bit misleading; in many countries the real amount of disposable income available for middle-class people has risen in the last 40 years, which makes them more likely to spend on non-essential things such as cameras.

Dear James,

Yes, the definition of 'hard use' is relative to the user.
The number of clicks is indeed defined by the manufacturer, but is an indication.
To me, and what follows are very, very, personal observations, 'hard use' is where, how and what I shoot with my camera, most of the time it's high temperatures, high (burning) light and moister, and the 'the strange things' evolving. One of these important 'strange things' are the washed out highlights, appearing like 'blotches' in the image. This is somewhat strange but it is there.
Let me explain the situation, if you don't mind the time for reading this. I was, and still am, currently working on two books shot in two regions where a lot of overexposed highlights are part of the image. Those regions are Spain next to Gibraltar and the south of Morocco.
It takes me about 4 to 5 weeks of shooting for each book. The 5 weeks for Spain where spread over 4 months, June to September and in Morocco, I started in August and 2 sessions are yet to come. So, I went up and down by plane, and I could work in rather similar (summer-) light conditions.
What I saw was that gradually, the highlights in my pictures got more and more washed out and also the SPORADIC appearance of square shaped white blotches radiating in to the darker parts next to the highlights, situated just on the border of these two area's.
I always shoot bracketing, the USER setting is programmed like this, 5 shots with 1 stop increments at 100 ASA, 5500°K, 'natural' mode, AV mode and in RAW. The lenses are always the same, a bunch of DA Ltd's. No filters, for 80% on tripod and for 80% the camera is positioned vertically (portrait frame).
It looks like the sensor is getting blind, slowly and gradually, by tiny steps, but it is there and evolving, undoubtedly. I can observe this because I systematically shoot in the same conditions in consecutive sessions wit only a few weeks of increments. The same I could see in the pictures shot in Morocco. When I shoot in rather dull lighted situations, over here in Belgium, these issues are not appearing, but the washed out highlights are present.
When the camera was new, this was not the case, highlights were good and no blotches.

I have a friend who's a camera man for a TV production house. After about 2 to 3 years the sensor in his professional SONY TV 2/3" DVCAM camera has to be replaced because the partial light sensitivity is changing (degrading) slowly, he has to get the same results time after time. Not the same as a K20 but it could be an indication.

Something else, but interesting, now. I have 10 SDHC cards, all the same : Sandisc Ultra 15MB/s C4 8GB and they are numbered so I can identify them.
Every time I leave for a shooting session, I check all these cards and always format them, so they are clean and ready to go. It's a professional discipline, just like charging the battery's, checking the sensor for dust, the lenses for dirt and the smoothness of the Schnecke/AF.
So everything should be OK and ready to shoot. On several occasions, when I arrived in Spain or Morocco, one of the cards could not be reed by the camera, regardless if this card was kept in the camera or in the wallet, its always a deferent one.

An other 'experience': on two occasions the USER settings were suddenly as deleted when I switched to them, just gone, I did not touched the camera before I got on the plane, after I landed, and fired up the camera for the first time: no more USER settings, strange indeed. This never happened before, and never occurs when traveling by car or train, try to explain that.

On these rather warm locations, the temperature got that high that on several occasions the camera stopped working. And, even strange, the shots made at the end of a shooting day are a little more 'noisy' than the ones shot in the beginning of that very same day (same location).
And due to my hands sweating, the rear wheel of the grip is sometimes malfunctioning.

All these annoyances, small ore big, are stressing and 'ageing' the camera and two to three years is well done for a little device filled up with micro electronics and very fine mechanics...

P.S. Sorry for my bad English...

"You could get some really cheap-ass medium format cameras like the Pentacon or the Kowa for around $2500 (optically it was unlikely they performed much better than 35mm cameras, but bigger frames cut way down on film grain)."

Has Ctein actually tested this assertion? I have owned Hasselblad and a Pentacon Sixes and frankly the difference in performance of the 80mm lenses was negligible.

Dear Iain,

Did you own them 40 years ago?

Back then, they weren't much better optical performers.

pax / Ctein

I think a lot of people have the cart before the horse here. There's no magic about why constant quality somehow comes at the same price. The reason, very roughly speaking, that "serious hobby gear" is of comparable cost then and now is that this cost is pretty much the definition of serious hobby gear. It's stuff affordable to interested mid-income people of the time. SLRs of the 70s, SLRs of the naughties...

There has always been much more expensive equipment, with a much smaller market. For instance have a look at the prices for movie primes... there's nothing magic there about the "about a grand" price range, the way there is in the "hobby" world.

I wasn't conscious in the 70s, but shot a lot of film in the 90s, and wonder about the sanity of any "serious photographer" who thinks digital is more expensive. Remember what a 100-roll block of film did to your wallet, your luggage, and then your wallet again? 200? Remember this every time you want to complain about weight or cost.

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